By: Jeremy Perrigo
The Bruins (16-10-5) made a quick trip to Buffalo Tuesday night to take on the struggling Sabres (8-18-7) at KeyBank Center. Boston was coming off a dominant 7-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets Monday night where David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand extended their scoring streaks to twelve and nine games respectively. The Sabres have lost six of eight games thus far in the month of December, their most recent coming in a crushing overtime defeat at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes last Friday. Star center Jack Eichel had a hat trick in the game, and he looked to continue his recent production at home Tuesday after a three-day break.
Buffalo came out fast to start the first period, and the Bruins countered quickly to break up the Sabres momentum. Kevan Miller laid a hit on Jacob Josefson 4:48 into the period and Buffalo defenseman Zach Bogosian immediately challenged Miller to a fight. The two exchanged blows before being sent to their respective penalty boxes.
Torey Krug became an early save-of-the-game candidate when he robbed former Bruin Benoit Pouliot of an empty net off a ricochet from behind the Bruins’ goal.
Anton Khudobin would be forced to come up with a few big saves for Boston himself when Patrice Bergeron was called for slashing 8:30 in on Kyle Okposo. The Bruins were able to kill off the resulting minor penalty.
Big hits were exchanged between the two division opponents, with Okposo, Charlie McAvoy, Rasmus Ristolainen and Sean Kuraly getting involved physically.
Marchand and Sam Reinhart would exchange scoring opportunities in the final minutes of the period, however the score would remain 0-0.
Buffalo outshot Boston 17-10 in the first 20 minutes, each team won 11 of 22 faceoffs in the period.
Boston and Buffalo traded opportunities throughout the first half of the second period, unable to break the tie early on, despite quality scoring chances both ways.
Just 14 seconds past the halfway point of the game, Jake DeBrusk charged the right side of the Sabres zone, receiving a puck from McAvoy and firing a hard wrist shot past Buffalo netminder Robin Lehner short side.
Buffalo answered the Bruin goal with high-quality scoring opportunities of their own. Pouliot and Okposo combined for a two-on-one chance that nearly resulted in a goal. Pouliot would have another chance at an open net off a rebound from Khudobin’s right pad. Again a Boston defenseman, this time McAvoy, would cut through the crease just in time to steer the puck wide.
Boston would hold onto a 1-0 lead to end the period, outshooting Buffalo 14-9.
The Sabres created multiple high-percentage scoring chances in the early half of the third period. Khudobin was forced to stand tall in the Bruin net and fend off a flurry of shots, including one particularly strong opportunity from Buffalo winger Evander Kane who fired a puck on net after streaking down the left wall.
Buffalo would continue to buzz the Boston end of the ice looking for the game-tying goal. However, thanks to strong defensive play and timely shot-blocking, most notably from Noel Acciari, the Sabres remained off the scoreboard.
With the Sabres’ net empty Tim Schaller would bank a puck out of the Bruins end that managed to go the length of the ice and into the Buffalo goal.
David Backes would add a second empty-netter to seal the deal 3-0.
Final Score: Boston 3 / Buffalo 0
Buffalo edged Boston in shots 36-33, also winning the majority of faceoffs with 62.1%. The Sabres outhit the Bruins 25-13.
Next Game: Thursday, December 21st vs. the Winnipeg Jets at TD Garden 7pm EST
It was expected that Boston would get off to a slow start in Buffalo after playing only 24 hours earlier at home against Columbus. Sure enough, the Bruins came out of the gate sluggish, relying on Anton Khudobin to keep the Sabres off the board until the team heated up in front of him.
Khudobin would continue to play well en-route to a 36-save shutout, stoning Buffalo’s top combo of Evander Kane and Jack Eichel.
The defense was sound on the back-end, covering back-door chances that have gotten the team into trouble in the past. What was most notable was the fact that the Bruins allowed few odd-man chances. Even when they did, sticks were in the right places to break up passes and prevent rebound opportunities.
The Winnipeg Jets present another difficult challenge for the Bruins on Thursday, as Blake Wheeler and company have seen incredible improvement from last season’s disappointing 87-point finish. Look for the B’s youngsters to show up again if Boston hopes to build on back-to-back wins.